The System Failed Aisha Fraser And So Did We, by C. Ellen Connally

There is a great deal of finger pointing going on in the wake of the tragic death of Aisha Fraser at the hands of her former spouse, disgraced Judge Lance T. Mason. But before we blame the system; the lawyers who got a reduced sentence in the original domestic violence case from August of 2014; the prosecutor who dropped six of the original charges — including two counts of felonious assault, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of endangering children; the judge who imposed a slap on the wrist; Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who wrote a letter to the prosecutor prior to the plea asking for leniency; and Mayor Frank Jackson, who gave Mason a cushy job at City Hall after his release, maybe we should take a serious look in the mirror. Domestic violence is a systemic problem in our society that often goes overlooked, under-reported and under-punished. The case of Lance T. Mason is a classic example.

If Mason’s victim in the August 2014 attack had been a total stranger, there is little doubt that the former judge would still be in jail, looking at the next decade as a guest of the State of Ohio’s penal system.   But in this case the victim was his wife.

If Mason’s victim had been a Labrador Retriever, animal rights groups would have packed the courtroom. When the case lingered on the court docket from August 2, 2014 to August 13, 2015, as the case against Mason did (while all the time he was receiving his full judicial salary), pet lovers would have demanded a speedy trial and any judge seeking reelection would have sped up the disposition of the case. When a sentence of 24 months was imposed, and an early release granted after only nine months, animal activists would have protested in front of the court house and maybe even the judge’s house. But in this case the victim was not a dog but the defendant’s wife.

Consider the consternation of the animal rights community when Michael Vick received a 23-month sentence for dog fighting. That sentence was a month shy of the total sentence imposed on Mason and more than twice the time he served. Vick’s victims — canines, not a human.

But our community remained silent — silent except for the four judges and large numbers of prominent lawyers who wrote letters to the sentencing judge asking for Mason’s early release and assuring the court that there was zero chance of recidivism. It’s clear that his supporters and the gaggle of black ministers who attended the proceedings did not take the time to listen to the statement of fact made by Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove at the time of the plea and sentencing when she read from the probation report — without objection from Mason’s lawyers. She related how he punched his wife 20 times with a closed fist after she suggested that he get counseling. How he bashed her head against the dashboard, pulled her hair, jumped out of the car and continued to hit her head against the ground before biting her on her cheek — a cheek that never had feeling again after the attack.

And the judge apparently didn’t even take into consideration the stash of weapons found in Mason’s home at the time of arrest — a stash that included guns, smoke bombs and bulletproof vests.

Just this week the estranged fiancé of an ER doctor at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital came to her job and brutally murdered her, along with two other innocent victims. On the same day a Colorado court imposed a life sentence without possibility of parole on Christopher Watts who killed his pregnant wife and two daughters — burying the girls in oil cans and his wife in a shallow grave, while all the time tearfully making pleas for their safe return. And those are only the victims of domestic violence who made the national news.

From 2001-2012, 6480 American troops were killed in the war in Afghanistan. During the same period 11,706 women were killed by their partners or former partners. NBC News reported that in 2017 an average of three women every day were murdered in America by a domestic partner.

Domestic violence is at epidemic levels nationwide. Aisha Fraser is just one of the thousands of women — and men also — who suffer the same fate every year. Because the person that perpetrated the crimes in the case of Aisha Fraser was a former judge and elected official and because she — the mother of two young girls — was a beloved teacher in well-known school district, her story has gone viral. But every day there are women who suffer the same fate and their stories go largely unnoticed.

I remember one of the last cases that I handled in Cleveland Municipal Court as a visiting judge. A defendant appeared as a probation violator on a charge of domestic violence. I sentenced him to the remainder of his sentence for violating the terms of his probation because he continued to harass the victim. After the sentencing I warned the victim, who had reestablished the relationship, that she had to get away from him. I specifically said, “He is going to kill you.” I will never forget the courtroom bailiffs and court reporter talking to me after the court session. They all said, “He’s going to kill her.” I feared the same thing but having imposed the maximum sentence there was nothing else I could do. I just hoped that she recognized the danger she was in. Several months later he did in fact kill her. I think of her often when I see domestic violence cases reported on the news.

As a society we must work to stop the cycle of violence that lingers in our homes — homes from rural America, the suburbs and the inner city. Pundits would like to blame domestic violence on poverty and see it only as an issue in lower socio-economic classes. Domestic violence is not limited to any race, class or economic group.

Lance Mason was a golden boy whose father was a doctor and his mother an educator. He went to the best of schools including the College of Wooster and the University of Michigan Law School. While many recent graduates struggled for employment, he got a well-paying government job right out of law school. He became the fair-haired boy of the late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, ran her Cleveland office, became a state representative, was appointed to the Common Pleas bench and then elected to a full term. One wonders if somewhere in his background there was some form of violence. Was there something in his past to cause him to strike out — something to cause him to snap back in August of 2014 and again this past Saturday?

The families of recent mass shooting victims have lashed out against the media and people who send prayers in their moment of sorrow. Many survivors clearly state that they don’t want any more thoughts and prayers. They want action regarding gun violence and positive gun control legislation.

We as a society should say the same about domestic violence. Certainly, we will support the family of Aisha Fraser and her children and our prayers go out to them. Generous contributions have been made and continue to be made to a GoFundMe account for their support. But we also must figure out how to stop this wholesale slaughter of women — and men too — at the hands of former partners. Domestic violence is a curse on our society that we must cure before more of our mothers, daughters and sisters are slaughtered at the hands of violent perpetrators who once shared their beds and lives.

There is an adage that says that when you point a finger at someone else your remaining fingers are pointed back at you. There are lots of fingers to be pointed in the tragedy of Aisha Fraser. Let’s not forget the fingers that point back at each one of us. We all share some blame for remaining silent when domestic violence strikes — be it our own home or the one across town.

When Lance Mason faces a judge the next time, the same people who went to Aisha’s vigil should be at that courtroom demanding justice. We can’t remain silent any longer.

C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and treasurer of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.

 

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31 Responses to “The System Failed Aisha Fraser And So Did We, by C. Ellen Connally”

  1. Reginald Williams

    Thank you for putting this out there, Judge Connelly. He blogged fairly often bet late 2015 and this past Sept. Insight into his thinking can be drawn from his posts. What he says and what he doesn’t.

  2. Janell Turner

    I agree.

  3. Lisa Payne Jones

    So sad but so true.
    Well said Judge Connally. I will share.

  4. Sheila Farkas

    He would be put in jail with all of the people who thought he should be released and spend the rest of their lives behind bars with NO release.

  5. I am so numb right now as to what happened. He should have been looked at with a fine tooth comb before he was given a early release, a job and another chance to kill his wife in front of his children. As a Survivor of Domestic Violence, I am aware of all the signs of this issue. Domestic violence is about Control. Once they lose that control, revenge becomes their daily thoughts. I pray that more people will speak out about being abused by anyone. Not only physical abuse, but financial, mental and verbal abuse. It all needs to stop. Politics as usual in Cleveland has to stop ASAP. My prayers are with these children of abuse victims. May God Have Mercy on all of us. We need to really dig deep into Domestic Violence. If they hit you once, I promise, they will do it again. May God watch over this family and all who knew Aisha.

  6. Tony Cuda

    Did any of the people who supported Mason’s early release ask Aisha if she would feel safe or if she thought Mason was rehabilitated?

  7. Tammy

    Thank you for this raw and unfiltered article. What is it gonna take to wake people up?

  8. Lee Buchanan

    Thank you

  9. Ellen Galmitz

    This message needs to be reaffirmed at each and every domestic violence case hearing. Especially asking the victims concerns.

  10. I agree with your commentary. So my question is Judge Connolly…why does the case against Jason Shorter who murdered his 21 month old son to spite the mother and walked into a Parma police station and admitted that he did it and the police found the baby dead in the trunk of his car still lingering on the court docket? This man has been sitting in Jail since May 2018 and NOTHING has happened in this case but continuance after continuance for discovery purposes. Your right if this was an animal people would be outside the courthouse protesting..this was a domestic violence attack committed by the father against a baby and nothing. You are right the system continues to fail the victims of this crime over and over again. I sincerely hope this time Lance Mason gets everything he deserves and Jason Shorter too!!

  11. Kent A. Whitley

    Agree. Well written Judge.

  12. Thank you for your insightful and sobering commentary Judge Connally. You touched on many statistics which highlights the violence that is being perpetrated against women on a daily basis.

    As a husband, father of a daughter and grandfather of 3 beautiful granddaughters, the fear I harbor is that they might meet a man, who would harm them rather than cherish and protect them. The fact that animals are more protected than humans is a sad commentary on our society

    I have a radio show on WOVU 95.9 FM called CODE M RADIO and would like to extend an invitation to have you on as a guest to discuss this further. I can be reached at 216-695-0911. Thank you for the courage to speak up for the least of those who can’t speak for themselves.

  13. Ramona Gerber

    I have some pretty direct experience with what she endured. I hate to say it, what I learned is that it doesn’t matter what the system does or does not do. If someone wants to hurt you bad enough and knows you and your life pretty well, there is little that can be done to keep them at bay. As her story demonstrates, even after he is gone from your daily life, he lurks in your mind and possibly in the shadows until he can spring upon you. There is no peace from it. The only peace that can be gained is the measure achieved when you do manage to get over your fear and keep him from your daily life. You prove that you are a survivor to yourself. You tell him that you respect yourself. No matter how it may end, you stood up for yourself. Still, he can come after you. Anyone that wants to get you in this way, will find a time if they want it bad enough. Keeping the crazy balanced is all you can do when the opportunity arises.

    So, what is the answer? Raise better men. Make it clear to your sons that men do not have this level of claim against a woman’s sense of herself.

  14. when I read this story it brought Tears to my eyes and hurt in my heart , my mother said if a man hit you (1) time he will hit you again she all so said if some one say they will kill you they will .GOD BLESS HER SOUL this really hurts.🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹

  15. Janet Vergith

    Truer words were never spoken. Domestic violence is our society’s dirty little secret. No one wants to admit that it happens on every socio-economic level. We need to bring this subject out of the closet and fight for the rights and protection of all of the victims. We also need counseling for the victims and their children. Many women who are victims were raised in violent homes and never find their way of of the cycle without counseling. The children raised in these homes are conditioned to see violence as normal relationship behavior. We need to end this cycle. Children need to be taught that they are precious and valuable and that love doesn’t hurt.

  16. Dorcus Johnson

    Living this type of atrocity with my daughter and granddaughter when the family court and domestic violence advocate says, We can not keep you safe!” a person had BETTER LISTEN and do all you can to keep yours alive. This was after getting a five year stalking and protection order for assault to no defense and asking the court for anger management, counseling, and supervised visits…I had to keep them safe myself in hiding. People like Mason, Castro, Sowell, and his imitator in East Cleveland demonstrate to the world that you can kill or treat girls/women in Cleveland any way and it does not matter. Many years ago our then govenor gave eight women clemency who had killed husbands and/or boyfriends in such situations and he stated on the record that Ohio was behind times in these matters…look it up. I am well known in Cleveland and could not get any help even after he had beat my grandbaby with a hanger after she fell playing and he wanted to play his video game undisturbed. I will never stop protecting them from that beast!!! They will have, like Aisha should have had, a life and future predestined by God filled with succes and blessing before they wete formed in their mother’s wombs. Standup women and girls of Cleveland and let us say…NO MORE!!!

  17. Fred A Jones

    30 years I’ve lived in Dallas but I grew up in Cleveland and still consider it home. I daily keep up with what’s going on in Cleveland. This struck hard because I work with creeps like Mason here in Dallas. It struck me because I know to many women who have been killed after pleading for help and safety from these plodding killers. It hit because the late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was my cousin, I’m familiar with Marcia Fudge and I know that black ministers and public officials like whites in power seldom hold there own accountable in these cases. Domestic violence should be treated like domestic terrorist. The system is broken and must be amended. Her blood is on all our hands..

  18. Kathy Abromeit

    Thank you for writing this piece.

  19. Sharon Milligan

    Thank you for writing this piece.

  20. Sharon Milligan

    Thank you!

  21. Patricia Blochowiak

    It’s time to remember that prevention starts at birth. In school, it starts in preschool. We need to teach people how to talk about their emotions, to teach social skills, to deal with stress & anger, how to resolve conflicts. We all need to model the best behavior we can, to set the best examples we can, to stop the bullying, to be kind, to love our enemies, especially to love our enemies.

  22. Sheila Madden Krejci

    Thank you Judge Connally for your thoughful, thorough evaluation of this epidemic of domestic violence. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come to the defense of her husband, who felt it was OK to lay a hand on his wife, who was also the mother of his children. This whole situation was horrific and very sad.
    Thanks for your candid and thoughful thoughts
    Sheila

  23. Janet M. Banks

    Judge Connally:

    Thank you for your insightful article about this very high profile and public domestic violence tragedy involving Cleveland’s beloved, Aisha Fraser. Domestic violence is a public health, human rights, economic and generational issue. It impacts each of us – families, friends, and the community in unimaginable ways, such as it has with Aisha’s young daughters, parents, family, friends, colleagues and our community. Let’s get educated about this often taboo subject.

    Use community resources, such as the Domestic Violence Child Advocacy Center (www.dvcac.org) to help us to learn about the pattern of abuse, cycle of violence and how we can support victims of abuse today. Break the silence. Let’s use our voices and collective abilities to take action. Victims needing emergency assistance can call the 24-hour HelpLine at: 216.391.HELP (4357).

  24. Karen Jones

    Thank you, Judge. These 2 current cases of domestic violence are very heart-wrenching. I’m from Chicago and have family in Cleveland who knew the victim. I’m CERTAIN that those that supported the killer-husband-abuser regret their support and are consumed by grief and guilt. BELIEVE abusers when they reveal themselves! There is no such thing as an apology of “it won’t happen again”. DV is real!

  25. Barbara

    If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck….duhhh….there can be NO dumbing down of domestic violence, we cannot rename it something “softer and gentler.” It is violence, violence, violence!! IT MUST STOP!!

  26. Christopher R Fortunato

    Thank you for this very good article, Judge Connally. The whole matter upset me four years ago when Mason threw away his career like that. Now, in trying to reestablish himself, he does this, ending is former wife’s life way too early and making his daughters orphans. The PD did report that Aisha Fraser Mason believed Lance Mason would not improve if he did not have sufficient counseling, and it seems like he did not.

  27. Sarah Beechsm

    I agree with Ms. Dorcus Johnson above. I will not sit in fear and cry praying that the system saves me. I WILL protect me and mine by ANY means necessary. Come on and meet Jesus any time you would like too. I am non-violent until the situation demands a paradigm shift and I will oblige. I’m not going out without a fight—period. I have a lot to live for and so much to experience. God willing, and I know He is, I will.

  28. Kathleen Conway

    So what of the individuals that wrote letters and sang his praises to assure that we should believe this was a one time incident. I think thy should suffer some consequences as well.

  29. Domestic Violence is FELONIOUS ASSAULT most times even ATTEMPTED MURDER/AGGRAVATED MURDER. STOP DRESSING IT UP AND PUTTING THE “DOMESTIC” qualifier on it. Does it take a stranger ASSAULT got the system to understand that most people who are killed happens at the hand of someone they know?..Even so when a victim does protect him/herself ; they are Re-victimized in the courts like I was because Ohio’S Self-defense Law requires that the victim I repeat ; THE VICTIM PROVE THAT IT WAS SELF-DEFENSE”. THUS UNLESS YOU HAVE YEARS IF DOCUMENTATION OF ASSUALT,AND YOU ARE NOT (OFTIMES)BLACK. YOU ARE GOING TO PRISON. THEY WILL GIVE YOU A PLEA-BARGIN TO DISPISE OF THE CASE. BUT WHEN YOU GET OUT OF PRISON YOUR LUFE IS FURTHER TAINTED AND YOU ARE UNEMPLOYABLE, BEAT DOWN PSYCHOLOGIALLY AND LIKE MYSELF SUFFER FROM PTSD as a direct result. You find yourself RE-EXPERIENCING YOUR OWN ASSUALT/ THE FEELINGS ASSOCIATED WITH IT. WHAT’STHE REMEDY TO THIS CYCLE OF VIOLENCE? I REALLY DON’T KNOW….but a good place to start would be calling it what it is….Felonious assault . Attempted murder….Murder. Maybe not using the perpetrators notoriety and accolades as a yardstick as much as it does. Thoroughly consider the gravity and heinousness of the assault. But most of all treat the Victim like the Victim. The are too many women like myself walking around wounded warriors. I tell if it were not for me seeking professional help and the Grace of God…I would not have ha the Energy and Stamina to fight my way back to Health and Wholeness. Lives are being ruined and taken needlessly because this crime is not taken seriously. My prayer is that a door into the heart and minds of those most directly affected is treated with the Care it begs for. After all “a mind is a terrible thing to waste” when it has so much to offer; like Aiesha and countless others.

  30. Mary

    Well spoken.

    What will you, Judge Connally, pledge to do to help dv victims?

    The number 1 reason women stay in abusive relationships: Fear of Financial Ruin

    In fact, it was reported that Aisha Fraser did not oppose his release because she was so financially burdened. Yet, none of the attorneys that supported Mason helped her. A $150,000 civil judgement for life altering injuries is a joke.

    Until we empower victims through true restitution and system support, they will be at the mercy of their more powerful abusers.

    A power shift must occur.

  31. Denise@BeyondAbuseProject

    As a domestic violence advocate, educator and survivor, I hear and see women who still suffer at the hands of their abusers everyday. For past 10 years I have hosted a free weekly support group, trainings, annual symposiums with little or no support. Even in October which is designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month we are sometimes overshadowed by other issues. It saddens my heart to see another sister dying because a system has allow these issues to fall through the cracks and society as a whole hasn’t looked at domestic violence as a big enough cause to get involved with. Did it take the life of another friend for the fires to begin to burn. NOW WILL YOU? Will YOU help Us live Beyond Abuse?? IF so, meet me and other advocates and survivors at the table and be a part of the conversation and the solution on Tuesday, December 11th at 6 p.m. South Pointe Hospital Building B first floor. Please do not let another victim die at the hands of their abusers. We have a right to live Beyond Abuse… Thanks for listening dlj

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